South Africa regulator refers Meta to tribunal over dominance

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JOHANNESBURG, March 14 (Reuters) - South Africa's Competition Commission on Monday said it had referred Facebook and WhatsApp owner Meta Platforms (FB.O) to a tribunal for allegedly abusing its dominant position in the market.

But a spokesperson for WhatsApp said the regulator was objecting to actions meant to protect the platform's users from abuses of WhatsApp's terms.

In a statement, the regulator accused Meta of "abusing its dominance by engaging in exclusionary conduct geared at preventing competitors or potential competitors from entering into, participating, and expanding in a market".

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The commission said Meta had decided to "offboard" GovChat (a start-up that connects government and citizens) and its subsidiary #LetsTalk from its WhatsApp Business Application Programming Interface.

It also said the company had "imposed and/or selectively enforced exclusionary terms and conditions regulating access to the WhatsApp Business API, mainly restrictions on the use of data".

However, WhatsApp defended its exclusion of GovChat, saying that the start-up was not complying with Meta's terms of service.

"GovChat has repeatedly refused to comply with our policies which are designed to protect citizens and their information, preferring to prioritise their own commercial interests over the public," a Whatsapp spokesperson said. "We will continue to defend WhatsApp from abuse."

Officials at GovChat were not immediately available for comment.

Meta is facing anti-trust action by several authorities, including the United States, Britain and the European Union.

But it has also taken a $250 billion hit to its share price owing to competition from rivals like TikTok that some argue bolster its case that it faces fierce competition and so is not in a monopoly position. read more

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Reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Jan Harvey, Ed Osmond and Cynthia Osterman

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